Sam Robin gave the Astor hotel its second reinvention—and Miami Beach got a stylish new restaurant-lounge in the process
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 2/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Such is sunny Miami's laid-back allure that smitten visitors often wind up staying for the long haul. Take Chicago native Sam Robin. She arrived in 1979 for a six-week stint designing a private aircraft interior—and remained for 24 years and counting. These days, she designs for a different kind of jet set. In addition to a line of furniture and lighting, her CV lists celebrity residences, fashion boutiques, and South Beach hot spots, her latest being the Astor hotel.
Built in 1936 by T.H. Henderson, the Astor was saved from decrepitude a decade ago by Karim Masri, who refashioned the art deco building as one of South Beach's most popular boutique hotels. But no refurbishment lasts forever. "I'd replaced things here and there over the years, and the decor became a little mishmashy," he says. "It also felt a little young." (Entirely excusable, since he'd purchased the Astor at the tender age of 22.) This time around, he asked Robin's namesake firm for no less than "unrecognizable."
The project entailed freshening up the 42 guest rooms, but its focal point was Metro Kitchen + Bar, which basically takes over the hotel's public areas. On the ground floor, the patio bar flows seamlessly into the lobby. The restaurant and another lounge are one flight below.
Throughout, Robin concocted a breezy mix of tropical art deco, clean-lined Chicago modernism, and groovy Italian mod—a combination that reflects Miami's polyglot character. "When I first moved here, what I loved about the area was that, with so many languages being spoken, I didn't understand a word anybody was saying!" she recalls. To appeal to a diverse and cosmopolitan crowd of out-of-towners and locals, she stuck to subdued chic. "I didn't think it should be overwhelmingly hip, just sophisticated and, above all, comfortable," she says. "I'm a hedonist."
Hedonism aside, she's driven by a deep respect for history and character, in this case the lobby's ziggurat-capped doorways and zigzag terrazzo floor. "The patterning was so strong—it didn't make sense to compete with it," she says. Instead, she chose low-slung furnishings in circular forms to soften the angularity. A round shag rug near the patio bar anchors a custom C-shape sofa and four Jeffrey Bernett swivel chairs; cooled by a vintage floor fan, the seating group is equally equipped to handle party-goers and map-wielding tourists.
In the patio bar and outdoor bar-restaurant, patrons perch on round stools and swervy Verner Panton chairs. This curvaceousness represents a departure for Robin. "Normally my work is very squared-off," she claims. "I'm not in love with curves."
She is in love with Vitrolite, a pigmented structural glass from the deco era. A small panel of Vitrolite wainscoting in the lobby is original. Robin used new 1/4-inch tempered glass for more wainscoting, the front and sides of the patio bar, and floor-to-ceiling panels and sliding doors in the lounge by the downstairs restaurant. The material not only complements her crème de menthe color scheme—white-leather seating with green terrazzo and mahogany woodwork—but also imparts an aqueous glow, making up for the plunge pool and whirlpool removed to gain alfresco bar and dining space. "Vitrolite's color reminds me of the ancient Chicago basement pools where I learned to swim," Robin says.
Downstairs at the Astor, she worked to create cohesiveness between three distinct spaces: an atrium seating area, a double-height restaurant, and a dark, low-ceilinged lounge. Because the gold-toned terrazzo floors, strié-finished mahogany paneling, and extensive glass combined to spell loud, she softened them with a gray-and-white felt wall hanging and two leather-wrapped dining nooks.
Approximately 100 guests can occupy the butterscotch-hued vinyl-covered seating and gray polypropylene chairs, intended to promote postprandial relaxation and people-watching. Robin may be a Chicagoan by birth, but she has clearly internalized the priorities of her adopted home. As she says with a wink, "The most important aspect of the design was to ensure that every seat is the best seat in the house."